A cross-section of politicians is calling for a national referendum to create an expanded Executive in which the president’s powers are shared.
In separate interviews with the Nation, the politicians proposed an end to the current winner-takes-it-all system, saying, this was the only way to ensure inclusivity.
Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, who co-chairs the Council of Governors’ (CoG) committee on constitutional review with Makueni’s Prof Kivutha Kibwana, said Kenya must rethink the version of liberal democracy inherited from the West at independence.
The CoG committee is the first institutional face of the referendum debate, although it was not clear last evening whether Mr Kiraitu’s views were personal or representative of the thinking within the CoG.
According to the governor, the system under consideration will feature both a president and a prime minister sharing executive functions, and two deputy prime ministers with functions specified in law — essentially a cross-breed of presidential and parliamentary systems.
This will arguably enhance national stability by expanding what Mr Kiraitu calls “tribal representation” in the Executive branch.
“What we call political parties are tribal organisations and cultural groups. Our problem is hypocrisy, denying our ethnic and tribal identities in public while our actions betray otherwise, rather than acknowledging and managing them. The new system will embrace the reality of Kenya,” he said.
Ford-Kenya leader and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula said the proposed system would help to prevent election rigging as a whittled-down presidency would no longer be so attractive.
“Given our ethnic fault lines and regional divisions, we need a new constitutional dispensation that dismantles the concentration of power in the presidency and disperses it to other offices so that the presidency becomes less attractive, hence not a do-or-die affair during every election,” Mr Wetang’ula said.
He urged President Kenyatta to take advantage of the current tranquillity in the country to lead the nation to a consensual referendum.
Kenyatta’s biggest legacy
“Kenyans need to agree and vote overwhelmingly for the referendum for a better direction. We don’t have to fight over it like we did in 2005. This will be his (President Kenyatta’s) biggest legacy,” he said.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr called for de-ethnicising of the presidency, saying, “it must be a unifying factor and a symbol of nationhood”.
“It cannot be a seat where tribes, friends or political foes arrange or agree on how the country will be governed or how resources will be distributed to suit the political persuasions of the season,” he said.
The presidency, he added, should not be a tool used every five years to balkanise or ostracise communities.
“We must exorcise and de-ethnisise the seat. Power to allocate resources should not, even remotely, appear to be at State House or Office of the President. The holder of that office must be in a position to travel the length and breadth of this nation without appearing to be seeking consent from tribal chieftains or creating an impression that the region or area is privileged to receive the head of state,” Mr Kilonzo said.
The Makueni Senator said any clamour to be president in Kenya is currently based on privilege, entitlement and a sense of bigotry.
Orange Democratic Party (ODM) chairman John Mbadi noted that dispersing presidential powers would enhance inclusivity since “Kenya is a country which I can refer to as heterogeneous, with many communities, and winner-takes-it-all ends up dividing the nation and leading to violence every five years”.
“A pure presidential system is less accountable… We need a government where the president is the Head of State and the symbol of national unity as the premier heads the government and coordinates government functions and service delivery,” he added.
Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said history shows that Kenyans have had a bad experience with an all-powerful presidency as “it stifles accountability and is synonymous with misuse of power”.
“Further decentralisation will enhance checks and balances,” he said.
“Power sharing will also inculcate a spirit of inclusiveness that is essential for national cohesion and sustainable development.”
Jubilee whip and Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said immense presidential powers act as a lure for politicians to capture it, which intensifies ethnic competition.
“If one disperses powers, it is hoped there will be no incentive for competitive presidential politics. However, I disagree with this thesis because power must repose in a certain seat, call it prime minister or whatever, and this will lure ethnic politics as well,” Mr Kang’ata said.
“Even parliamentary democracies are driven by ethnicity. Ethnically-divided societies employ two remedies — consociational and centripetal models. The first one is essentially entrenched in power echelons, a grand coalition of all key parties like in Kenya between 2007-2013, while the second gives politicians an incentive to moderate,” Mr Kang’ata noted.
He said the Constitution provides that for one to win a presidential election, one must get 50 per cent plus one of the votes, together with at least 25 per cent of votes cast in at least half of all counties.
“The idea is that the winner must get cross-ethnic support, but the threshold is too low; a coalition of two or three major ethnic groups can achieve it, to the exclusion of the rest,” he said.
Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat, Tongaren MP Eseli Simiyu and Tiaty MP William Kamket all agreed that dispersing presidential powers will enhance inclusivity.
“Our history, every five years, is written with glaring mistakes on how much focus is placed on presidency,” Mr Salat said.
“People have lost lives and we want to end this do-or-die attitude by those seeking the presidency. So, for me, anything that will let Kenyans live normal, uninterrupted lives is welcome.”
Power, he noted, needs to be spread out for the good of the nation as this will make “a union of the country’s communities”.
“We must examine when the rains started beating us and remedy it. We need to ensure real power belongs to the people and not an individual,” Mr Salat said.
Mr Simiyu, like the rest, noted that stripping the presidency of its immense power “will remove the problem of extreme ethnicity”.